The Supreme Court just announced a verdict to settle the Ayodhya dispute today. Personally speaking, it doesn’t matter now whose claim of the disputed land was/is more accurate, as a seed of distrust and hate sown in our hearts had already made us lesser human beings.
There are reasonable apprehensions that the parties over-jubilant or hyper-dissatisfied over the verdict, may not let a moment pass peacefully. The administrations have issued advisories, orders and held consultations over the fall out of any such foreseeable event. It is possible that the situation might not worsen as it did immediately after Babri Masjid demolition by Hindu fanatics emboldened by the war cry of ‘Mandir Wahi Banayenge‘, two decades ago.
It is repetitive to say that Hindus regarded the disputed place as the birthplace of Shri Ram, the King of Ayodhya, but the title to a large portion of the area was a property of a local Muslim, in legal terms. Ayodhya was sensitive since the 19th century, but things took a definite turn in the 1980s after the central government ordered the opening of the lock in the disputed premises. In retrospect, it seems Rajiv Gandhi government’s gamble to appease the orthodoxy of both the major religion of the land (one through overturning Shah Bano and another through unlocking Babri Mosque and doing a Shilanyas) has not only been a fatal error but an original sin to Secularism. Rajiv Gandhi didn’t live long enough to witness the carnage himself. The demolition sparked violence all across the nation, where a lot of lives were lost, and its brutality bought humanity to a new low. Major cities, such as Bombay (now Mumbai); Surat, Kanpur, Delhi, Bhopal rioted, and thousands of lives were lost.
Right now, the government preparation, especially in Ayodhya indicates a tension. It is also reflective of the fact that the stakes and apprehensions are still very high even after almost 27 years.
I am a firm believer that every Indian understands the importance of respecting other religion’s place of worship and seldom thinks of desecrating it. But the truth is, civilians rioted after the destruction, and we continue to watch leaders expressing their desire publicly and wish to see a grand Ram Mandir at the disputed site. Even the media has been fanning the frenzy to its peak, that too with its long monologues and a boastful language to say the least! The year 1992 might have been the year when the mosque was desecrated, but to remind one community about its loss, again and again, tells us that we have taken a wrong turn in a plural and democratic society. If nationalism stands out for demoralizing and shaming one of the two major religions of the land, then its a loss of the idea of India.
The idea of orthodoxy and militancy indeed exists on both sides of the community, but there is no reason why one more opportunity should be created to up the ante. Our scriptures tell us that the King is the ultimate upholder of justice and order, but he is also a role model for the others. This is a reason Ramayan suggests that a good counsel to the ruler shall be given to him uninhibitedly, correcting him even if it means correcting him through pulling his hair:
Unfortunately, a significant number of notable intellectuals, artists and professionals have expressed concerns about the worsening of the communal harmony in the recent time and even if they are no authority on its real causes, they still are an important part of the society, which actively shapes the thinking of society.
Similarly, the fourth estate of the republic had been aggressively corporate-ized and is no condition to counsel the ruler. Instead, their freedom of speech and expression has taken them to air opinion supportive of the narrative fed by the government. This distortion of freedom of speech and expression by the media is also reducing the chances of accommodating any difference of opinion. While TV anchors might fuel the divide further, make no mistake, it is our neighborhood that’s going to face the heat. Media cannot be sensitivity-coached in a day, and the amount of poison it has already added to our minds cannot be undone merely by a court-ordered media silence for a week or two. Hence, we are our best defence.
The tragedy of our political consciousness is that while the governments continue to provide subsidized food grains for food security, where unemployment runs high, justice is delayed and law and order is the hostage to the political whims and fancies; we continue to get divided on the religious war-cries.
When Gandhi Ji talked of non-violence, he asked to shun the ideas of violence as well. He asked for love, compassion and forgiveness. He also said his non-violence is a weapon of the strong-willed and cowards cannot use it to shield their passivity. Today, those words are our protection against the waves of probable sectarian violence that is waiting to engulf us sooner or later.
The Supreme Court may settle out the actual rights over the disputed sites, but the peace and tranquility that had been vitiated in the intervening period is our collective loss. The people in their heart should honestly assess how beneficial these grand posturing in the name of a temple, statue or park are for the last man in the queue. Gandhi’s talisman is oft-quoted and readily-forgotten advice. Time has again settled the fact that eye for an eye will make us all blind.
For those who have used the chant Jai Shri Ram as a political tool, there is an important lesson that such people can learn from another Ram-bhakta, who was none other than Mahatma Gandhi himself. The integrity and commitment to his dharma were such that he never blinked before entering any burning and rioting city; demanded the Hindus of Delhi and Muslims of Bengal to stop killing each other. While ‘India was awakening at midnight’, Gandhi was observing fasts and meetings to uphold the last strand of communal harmony in the country. Unfortunately, India does not have another Gandhi to spare now.
The greatest achievement of our struggle against British Colonialism was that it reduced the word communalism to a bad word. India was fortunate to embrace the modern scientific temperament with Gandhi’s idea of secularism, which is to ensure a sense of mutual respect and tolerance for different faiths in society.
I want to leave you all with the words of another great saint of the country, Swami Vivekanand spoke in Kubhakonam:
“India alone was to be, of all lands, the land of toleration and spirituality; and therefore, the fight between tribes and their gods did not long take place here. For one of the greatest sages who was ever born found out here in India even at that distant time, which history cannot reach, and into whose gloom even tradition itself dares not peep — in that distant time the sage arose and declared, एकं सद् विप्रा बहुधा वदन्ति — ‘He who exists is one; the sages call Him variously’…
And for us Hindus, this truth has been the very backbone of our national existence. For throughout the vistas of the centuries of our national life, this one idea — एकं सद् विप्रा बहुधा वदन्ति — comes down, gaining in volume and in fullness till it has permeated the whole of our national existence, till it has mingled in our blood, and has become one with us. We live that grand truth in every vein, and our country has become the glorious land of religious toleration. It is here and here alone that they build temples and churches for the religions which have come with the object of condemning our own religion…
Nay, no civilisation can long exist unless this idea enters into it. No civilisation can grow unless fanatics, bloodshed, and brutality stop. No civilisation can begin to lift its head until we look charitably upon one another, and the first step towards that much-needed charity is to look charitably and kindly upon the religious convictions of others. Nay more, to understand that not only should we be charitable, but positively helpful to each other, however different our religious ideas and convictions may be. And that is exactly what we do in India as I have just related to you.
It is here in India that Hindus have built and are still building churches for Christians and mosques for Mohammedans. That is the thing to do. In spite of their hatred, in spite of their brutality, in spite of their cruelty, in spite of their tyranny, and in spite of the vile language they are given to uttering, we will and must go on building churches for the Christians and mosques for the Mohammedans until we conquer through love, until we have demonstrated to the world that love alone is the fittest thing to survive and not hatred, that it is gentleness that has the strength to live on and to fructify, and not mere brutality and physical force.”
The above article was first published here.